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Today in History: April 1, 1950. Transfer of the administration of Somalia from Britain to Italy

Decided by the General Assembly of the United Nations. End of 9 years of uncertainty  


by Mohamed I. Trunji
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory of Somalia, under Italian Administration

In its Resolution of November 21, 1949, placing Somalia under International Trusteeship Administration, the General Assembly of the United Nations had called on the Trusteeship Council to negotiate with the Administering Authority (Italy) over a draft trusteeship agreement to be submitted to the General Assembly no later than its fifth regular session in 1950.

The resolution recommended, inter alia, that Italy should be invited to undertake the provisional administration of Somalia while the trusteeship agreement for the territory was awaiting approval by the General Assembly. In the meantime, the Italian government, in a communication addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 22 February 1950, undertook to administer the territory in accordance with the provisions of the Charter relating to the International Trusteeship system while the Trusteeship Agreement for the territory was awaiting approval by the General Assembly (TNA FO 1015/556 Note no. 1511/285/50, March 21, 1950)

Two weeks after the General Assembly made its recommendations; the Trusteeship Council had established a special committee with the task of preparing a draft trusteeship agreement. The committee was composed of the following countries: Dominican Republic, France, Iraq, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The drafting committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Max Henriquez-Urena of the Dominican Republic met in Geneva on January 9, 1950 and, in the course of the next 10 days, has prepared a draft text for presentation to the Trusteeship Council. The draft agreement was chiefly based on two draft texts submitted by Italy and the Philippines, respectively.

There were basic points of disagreement between the two drafts. One of the points of controversy concerned efforts by Italy to secure an agreement as favourable as possible to her. While the Philippines and Iraq strove determinedly to make the draft agreement “a model expression of trusteeship containing detailed guarantees for the native population and sharp curbs of the administering authority’s freedom of action” (B. Rivlin “The Italian Colonies and the General Assembly) The trusteeship agreement, as drafted by the Committee with a few changes, was first submitted to the Fourth Committee of the United Nations and subsequently to the General Assembly which approved at its plenary meeting of December 27, 1950 by a vote of 44 to 6.

Peculiarity of the Somali trusteeship regime

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The trusteeship regime placed on Somalia presented a unique feature, for it was the only case in which trusteeship responsibility was assigned to a defeated former colonial power (Italy) which was not even a member of the United Nations. This particular situation led to the approbation of stringent trusteeship arrangements for Somalia in comparison to the existing Trusteeship Administration. 

These strict conditions included a specified duration of ten years set for the mandate given to Italy, followed by independence after this period. “For the first time in the history of the UN a target date was imposed on a Trusteeship Power”, (Castagno, A. A., Somalia in <International Conciliation>, 552, March 1959). Other trustee countries (Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, New Zealand and the USA) were given indefinite duration and the Trusteeship Agreement made reference to ‘self-government’ and not to full independence as an alternative solution. Another unique feature of the Trusteeship Agreement for Somalia was the provision for an Advisory Council of three countries to assist the Administering Authority in the Trust Territory.

“No other Trust Territory has been watched over so jealously by its guardians as has Somalia, which has long been viewed as the special ward of the United Nations,”(Castagno) The effect of this UN presence in Somalia was also further strengthened by the provision of regular visiting missions which, like the Advisory Council, reported to the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations (vide Article 5 (3) of the Trusteeship Agreement in conjunction with Article 87 of the Charter of the United Nations). Throughout the period of the mandate, three missions visited Somalia between 1951 and 1957.

However, these political and civil guarantees did not make for smooth Italian-Somali relations. Somalia did not support the Italian administration, as the 1948 riots in Mogadiscio confirmed. Yet, this hostility towards the Italians was not shared by all Somalis where many people did correctly see the new administration as an entity acting on behalf of the United Nations and accountable to it. The Italian government placed the responsibility of the Trust Territory in the hands of a special government agency, the Italian Trusteeship Administration (Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia - AFIS)

Incident-free handover

At a time when no decision had yet been taken on the future of Somalia, a handover plan was discussed and agreed upon between Britain and Italy. The formal proclamation of the termination of British administration was made by the Chief Administrator on March 30, 1950, after nine years of British military occupation. (UN Trusteeship Council Official records, seventh session, vol. 1)

On 1 April 1950, as provided by the General Assembly Resolution, the transfer of administration from British to the Italians was formalized with a solemn ceremony. The handover process took place without incident in all over the country.

In Mogadiscio the ceremony of lowering and hoisting flags took place in the courtyard of the Palazzo del Governo. It should be noted that, the last Italian flag in the Horn of Africa having been lowered at Gondor, North-Western Ethiopia, on November 27, 1941, that flag was again hoisted in East Africa on April 1, 1950.

A large crowd of Somalis, including religious and tribal chiefs, attended the historic ceremony. Top officials from Britain and Italy were present to witness the event. The former nation was represented by Gen. Dowler, Commander in Chief of the East African troops, and Gen. Geoffrey Gamble, Chief Administrator of Somalia. The latter by Acting Administrator, Pompeo Gorini, and the Commander of the “Corpo di Sicurezza” [Security Corps], General Arturo Ferrara, in addition to the Italian Liaison Officer, Ambassador Raimondo Manzini.

With the same modality, the transfer of power took place in all parts of the Territory, and the day passed without incident, except for a brawl which broke out between elements of the Comferenza and the Lega dei Giovani Somali at Bardera (Upper Juba). The brawl which later degenerated into shooting claimed the lives of three persons; a few more were slightly injured.

The handover of the territory was to start from the front to the rear, according to the plan prepared earlier for this purpose. Alula, in the Migiurtinia Province (now Punt land), was the first district to be handed over on March 17, 1950.

In its editorial comment, the official daily newspaper, Il Corriere della Somalia, wrote triumphantly: “Nine years of British Administration over the territory of Somalia ended this morning in accordance with the General Assembly of the United Nations at Lake Success on 21 November, 1949. Above the administrative buildings in the capital, Mogadiscio, there now flies the three colored flag of the Republic of Italy. The Union Jack is lowered. With dignity and simplicity, in harmony and friendship, Britain transferred, at the wish of the United Nations, the administration of Somalia to the Republic of Italy. All was completed without incident and in harmony”.  (Il Corriere della Somalia, Aprile 1, 1950) The perceived danger was that, some extremist element associated with the Lega, disappointed and fearing for their future, might try to stir up trouble either before or after the arrival of the Italians. “Nothing of the predicted disorder and unrest happened; the situation remained calm and promising. The atmosphere was more much tranquil than had been expected, and of the upheavals and resistance expected in some quarters materialized”, (Saul Kelly). Brigadier Gamble, who was present in Mogadiscio on April 1, 1950, said the handover was “very impressive, punctual and dignified”.

Lieutenant Colonel Alfredo Arnera, who served in Somalia during the AFIS period as commander in chief of the Somali police force and who was present at this important event, wrote: “No Somali protests, no one disobeys, no one has the slightest thought of doing anything which is not in line with what is going on”. Arnera added that the Carabinieri “were ready to intervene with firm determination should the Somali police show signs of ‘défaillance’ or the enemy of our country dare put their hidden threats into action” (“Il Carabiniere, No. 5 (1980).The British authorities were also instructed to intervene in the event of disturbances during the handover ceremony. (TNA WO 230/270 Directives of the Commander-in-Chief Middle East for General Arthur Dowler)

In Baidoa, the Provincial capital of Upper Juba, the arrival of the Italians was welcomed with particular enthusiasm as a heavy downpour of rain on March 23, the same day as the handover, eased a severe water shortage. This fortuitous rain, after months of drought and hardship, was interpreted by the local population as “a mark of the favour of Allah at the return of the Italians”. (TNA WO 230/291, Report on the handover of Upper Juba Province, March 31, 1950)

The Italian administration had formally ended its job in Somalia on 30 June 1960, six months before the time stipulated in the Trusteeship Agreement, in derogation of article 24 of the Trusteeship which in effect provided for the expiration of the trusteeship on December 2, 1960.

M. Trunji
E-mail: [email protected]

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